Sunday, March 25, 2007

Do You Trust the Church?: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (Part 5.2)

NOTE: This is part 5.2 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link: . Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

Has the Church definitively settled the matter?; what authority and dignity do women have in the eyes of the Church?

"Church authority as depicted in Scripture is hierarchical—however distasteful and scandalous that may seem to us modern Westerners."--CPDT

Regarding whether the matter of the male-only priesthood has been defined definitively by the Church, Luis wrote:

“No council has defined the male-only priesthood as a dogma of the faith
either .... so it is an open issue .... but there is a gag order at the
moment not to discuss it .... why do we need a gag order to avoid facing
an open issue?”

I replied:

Again, these are your words: “the male-only priesthood… is an open issue.” In contrast, these are the Pope’s words: “…at the present time in some places it [the male-only priesthood] is nonetheless considered still open to debate … Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance …this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

You make a legalistic distinction between a “dogma of the faith” and something pertaining to the faith that is to be definitively held. I think this is a matter of splitting hairs. Clearly, this is a matter pertaining to the faith (central to the nature of the Church) that you do not definitively hold to.

Where is it written that the faithful are only to give their assent to defined dogmas and not to the other expressions of the Magisterium as it pronounces on faith and morals? The Vatican II Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium is instructive regarding the obligation of the faithful with regards to magisterial teaching on matters of faith and morals:

“This loyal submission of will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.” (LG#25)

By the way, the doctrine is formulated in an infallible manner (even if this is debatable, it is at least as strong as a teaching can be asserted given the language!) and is a doctrine that has been taught in the recent past with frequency (this was not the first time this doctrine was taught).

The Catholic Church has argued that slavery and the slave trade is immoral… although they did not define it as a “dogma of the faith”. If I seek to be an obedient and faithful Catholic am I free, in good conscience, to deny that teaching? (Some dissidents make the same argument about the clear teaching against artificial contraception: “it was not infallibly defined as a dogma so I can discard it!”)

Still, some theologians argue that Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis WAS infact exercising papal infallibility in this pronouncement:

See the following articles:
[Jeff Mirus:
and Fr. Peter Pilsner on the same issue:

I will quote from Jeff Mirus’ article:

“The operative paragraph in this short document is the final substantive paragraph, immediately preceding the Apostolic Blessing: ‘Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.’

Let us compare this with Vatican I's definition concerning the exercise of papal infallibility: ‘the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person of St. Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore irreformable because of their nature, but not because of the agreement of the Church.’ [First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ]

THE FOUR TESTS OF INFALLIBILIY: There are, clearly, four tests of infallibility: The Pope must be
(1) intending to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority (3) a matter of Faith or morals (4) to be held by the universal Church. ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ not only passes all four tests, but it is manifest that the Pope deliberately phrased the teaching to ensure that this would be obvious.”

In his analysis, Mirus draws the connections:
"1.) intending to teach: “I declare…” It is obvious from the context that he is teaching something, he is clarifying a part of the faith which some think is still subject to change. His objective in teaching is that "all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance”.

2.) by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority: “in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32)” (the chief scriptural passage cited in the Official Relatio on Infallibility presented by Bishop Vincent Gasser to the bishops at I Vatican Council).

3.) a matter of faith or morals: “regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself”
4.) to be held by the universal Church: "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.” Incidentally, dogmas are to be held by the universal church… with mere disciplines (such as priestly celibacy) is not always to be held by all (e.g. – Eastern rite priests, some Anglican/Lutheran converts in the West).

Some might claim that the Pope is not using a precise formula for an infallible dogmatic pronouncement (or that it is not in the right form of papal document). Mirus notes:

“Once we understand that it is the Pope and not the document that is infallible, a subtle shift in our perception occurs. Instead of looking for a particular linguistic formula in the text, and fearing that something may not be infallible if the "proper" formula is absent, we look in the text for language which indicates the Pope's intention. Does the language clearly indicate, by whatever words, that the Pope intends to teach by virtue of his supreme authority on a matter of faith or morals in such a way that binds the whole Church? If so, the Pope is exercising his prerogative of infallibility, and what he teaches is irreformable.”

Two other paragraphs are illuminating:

“Third, dogma is not limited to a prescribed body of information already defined. Rather, any point in the general body of Christian doctrine may become dogma by being irreformably defined. The process by which a doctrine is stated so precisely and authoritatively that it becomes irreformable is the process by which a doctrine develops into a dogma; the clearest culmination of this process is a formal dogmatic definition. Fourth and finally, the definition of infallibility at Vatican I does not limit infallibility to those extraordinary cases in which the Holy Father states he is formally defining a new dogma. Whether or not he would call Ordinatio Sacerdotalis a dogmatic definition, the Pope has stated infallibly a doctrine that has always been known, taught and believed by the great body of Catholic faithful--namely that the Church has no authority to ordain women. He has, in other words, irreformably formulated a proper understanding of a limitation on the authority of the Church.”

I realize, Luis, that you believe the male-only priesthood is a discipline and not a doctrine (indeed a discipline that was outrageously elevated to the level of doctrine by Ordinatio Sacerdotalis). However, show me some statement from the Church’s Magisterium or 2,000 years of Tradition that explicitly refers to or defines the male-only priesthood as a discipline. What clues do you find in the historical record that this was a discipline?

Regarding the question of whether the Church changed its teaching on slavery, Luis wrote:

“The slavery issue is certainly part of "faith and morals," and both go together.
One of the great debates in Europe after the discovery of America was whether
or not the native Indians had souls and could be baptized. I imagine something
similar may have happened by blacks. I look forward to you educating me further on this.”

I replied:

I have tried to demonstrate in my recent email to you [to be posted soon] that it is false to claim that the Catholic Church (in a magisterial document) positively taught that chattel slavery and the slave trade were morally acceptable. On the contrary, I cited over a half dozen papal documents that taught that slavery and the slave trade was immoral. I do not know who was involved in such debates about the humanity of native Americans… I do not doubt that they occurred… but the question is what the Catholic Church explicitly and positively taught through the Magisterium.

I questioned where Luis finds “the official position of the church was that women were sub-human”? (Does he have a papal document or canon from a council that states this?... something besides scattered speculative musings from theologians?) I also asked why he would say that the Church taught that women were sub-human given the fact that they baptized women from the very beginning, canonized and venerated women saints, supported and partnered with women religious in missionary endeavors, etc. Luis singled out the point about women being baptized and wrote:

Excellent question, which now we see as an obvious contradiction; again, it has more to do with resistance to having women in roles of religious authority, and very little to do with sacramental theology.

I replied:

How do you back this assertion up? The Church cites sacramental theology and the precedents of Scripture and Tradition in its explanation of the teaching. See above [post 5.1] for the argument that the ability to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders does not necessarily follow from baptism (any more than the necessity to marry follows from baptism).

Regarding the fact that women exercise tremendous authority and power in virtue of their holiness and their vocations which are essential to the mission of the Church, Luis wrote:

All the cases you mention retain religious authority 100% in male hands.
Influnce, yes; authority, no.

I replied:

Holy and influential women certainly do exercise tremendous moral authority (they have also historically held teaching positions—which is a form of authority). You seem to limit “religious authority” to juridical administrative authority and authority to teach (as bishops, and in councils, etc.). I would also note that a woman superior also exercises hierarchical “religious authority” in shepherding her order—which includes administration, legislation, and shaping the spirituality and apostolate of the order. Women sometimes serve as the chancellor of a diocese or on the marriage tribunal. Women have for some time now had important roles in the various curia offices.

You are right, however, women do not exercise another kind of hierarchical authority which is the jurisdiction of the pope, bishops, and pastors of the Church (authority exercised over an entire body of laity). This, I think, is the root of the problem. My question to you is: what if women were pastors, bishops, and popes? Wouldn’t these women teach the same things as have always been taught (by male bishops) as they would be guided by the Holy Spirit? Or, would women—by virtue of the fact that they are women—decide to teach other things? Would women teach something differently about the moral character assigned to homosexual acts? Would they teach that abortion or artificial contraception was morally acceptable? I know that you say these are not the issue at hand… but, when I skim through a list of organizations that support women’s ordinations, I see more than a few of them have an agenda that desires changes in current Church teachings.

What I believe is at root is a desire for the “democratic” model of Church authority: everyone is represented, everyone gets a chance to lobby for “their” preferred teaching. We see this in the Episcopal Church with its “house of deputies” (composed of laity and clergy) so as to give everyone a voice. This democratic vision of Church magisterium has led to many false teachings and the tearing down of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition in my mind. Church authority as depicted in Scripture is hierarchical—however distasteful and scandalous that may seem to us modern Westerners. The argument for women’s ordination seems to be about power/gender politics, having a voice, and a “seat at the table.”

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